14 December, 2006

SOX Compliance and Crumpled 3x5's

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When I was a wee lad I had to take part in a management training meeting. Of the week I was there I got only one thing of value (unless you count the pleasant and far too expensive stay at the Times Square Marriott and subsequent New York restaurant visits).

We did an exercise.

They divided the class up into about 10 groups of 4 to 5 people. They gave each group a bunch of 3x5 cards a few rolls of cellophane tape and a stapler with a bunch of staples (too bad it wasn't a Red Swingline) .

We had 3 minutes to plan then at the end of that time we had 2 minutes to build a 5 foot tall tower with our resources.

My team spent the three minutes dividing ourselves into an organized, highly efficient 3x5 card block creation assembly line and readying the floor space.

When the stopwatch started we started stapling the cards into small triangular blocks like good little assembly line workers. We made hundreds of them and passed them to our teammates who dutifully organized and stacked them. The leader circled the tower applying tape to hold the layers together. We were incredibly efficient, hard working, we paid attention to every detail and were ultimately unsuccessful.

Our tower got to be almost 3 feet high when they rang the bell. It was a pretty tower and we worked hard on it, but in the end it fell short of the 5 feet goal by close to half.

Two of the groups did succeed.

One of them strung out long strips of tape and slapped the 3x5 cards to them length wise. They crumpled these into three tubes then taped them together at the top. It only took them about 30 seconds to finish.

The second group had everyone on the team watch each of the other groups. When they saw the tube guys they imitated them. I think they probably finished in about a minute. Their strategy was obviously to imitate a successful strategy. After all the goal wasn't to be first it was just to get over 5 feet in less than 2 minutes.

When I first got involved in SOX compliance pieces, specifically the attestation process I felt either like the stapling person or (when I was in charge) like the group leader running around with the tape trying to hold the far too small (but very pretty and neatly organized) tower together.

Since then I have been through three successful audits at two different companies. One of which I helped manage.

Our most successful portions were done by crumpling the cards and taping them together at the top.
I am going to try to describe what went well over the next few weeks, so if you are having headaches stacking cards perhaps you can play the part of the second team instead.

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